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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                25
nostrils twitched slowly. From its half-open maw, in
which old, yellow, but still powerful fangs were visible,
a fine thread of thick saliva hung, swaying in the wind.
Robbed by the war of its winter sleep, it was hungry
and angry. But bears do not eat carrion. After sniffing at
the motionless body, which smelt strongly of petrol, the
bear lazily walked round the glade where plenty of
similar human bodies were lying frozen in the crisp snow;
but a groan and a rustle brought it back again to Alexei's
And so it was now squatting beside Alexei. The pinch
of hunger fought its aversion to carrion. Hunger was
beginning to gain the upper hand. The beast sighed, got
up, turned the body over with its paw and tore at the
flying suit with its claws. The material held, however.
The bear uttered a low growl. It cost Alexei a great effort
at that moment to suppress a desire to open his eyes, roll
aside, shout and push away the heavy body that had
flung itself upon his chest. While his whole being was
prompting him to put up a fierce and desperate defence,
he compelled himself, slowly and imperceptibly, to slip
his hand into his pocket, grope for the handle of his
pistol, cock it carefully so that it did not click, and
imperceptibly pull it out.
The beast tore at his flying suit with greater fury. The
stout leather crackled, but still held. The bear roared
in a frenzy, gripped the suit with its teeth and through
the fur and wadding nipped the body. By a last effort of
will Alexei suppressed a cry of pain, and just at the
moment when the bear yanked him out of the snow-drift
he raised the pistol and pressed the trigger.
The shot rang out in a sharp, reverberating crack.
The magpie fluttered its wings and flew swiftly away.
The dry snow dribbled from the disturbed branches.
The bear slowly released its prey. Alexei fell back into
the snow, keeping his eyes fixed on the bear. The latter
was squatting on its haunches; its black purulent eyes
expressed bewilderment, A stream of thick, dull-red blood
trickled between its fangs and dripped on to the snow.
It uttered a hoarse, frightful roar, rose heavily on its
hind legs and collapsed before Alexei could fire another
shot. The bluish snow slowly turned scarlet and as it